Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Ode To Unmarriage and The Unhusband

Well, as many of you know I have been happily unmarried to the same man for over eighteen years now.  On this blog I affectionately refer to him as my unhusband.  There is no doubt in my mind that we are well matched.  I find him intellectually stimulating, fun to be around and an excellent lover (don't let that swell your head sweetie, you're still taking out the garbage).

Choosing purposefully to remain unmarried has not come without its complications.  There are those that cannot resist commenting on our lives.  How can we possibly be happy living in sin?  How do I know that he is committed to me, if I don't have a slave band wedding ring on my finger?  Don't you want to be branded like a cow, share the same last name?  What about your children; they won't have a true sense of family...

Yada, yada, yada... As much as we speak about living in a progressive society, where women have the right to choose what kinds of lives we want to lead, in actuality we continue to be disciplined into participating in archaic ceremonies that tie us to patriarchal institutions.  To be clear the "traditional family" as we understand it today is not only patriarchal, it is authoritarian.  The hierarchy begins with the male figurehead at the top and the children at the bottom.  In some families if the children are male they are placed above their mother.

The unhusband is every bit as unmarried as I am, yet questions regarding the validity of our commitment are always directed at me.  For a man to live with a woman without being married carries no social stigmatization.  Some even joke approvingly that he is getting the milk for free.  Yeah nice analogy, because of course the only reason to be with me is for the gadget between my legs and not the content of my character, or my level of intelligence. 

These kind of aspersions though directed at me are commonly said to many women who decide to forgo the gold ring and white dress.  I have very specific reasons for deciding to never marry which I am not going to get into on this post; the point is that I should not have to justify this decision to anyone. If we claim to have choice, then when someone chooses to do something 0utside of the norm it should not be continually subject to social discipline.

You know it occurs to me that some lesbians are actively fighting for the right to get married and in some countries that right is denied them;  yet my decision not to marry is continually subject to social discipline.  The issue can therefore be understood as an issue of control.  Marriage is an institution to uphold patriarchy and heterosexism and this why it is right routinely denied lesbians.  If no man profits from the relationship then society sees no point in validating the union. 

Simply because something is traditional does not make it necessarily a good thing for all parties involved.  Male headship of the traditional family does not lead to an equal and respectful marriage.  There are those that will continue to walk down that aisle and participate in the wedding ceremony ignoring the significance of what this act means for women.  I choose to wake each day participating in a relationship on my own terms, fully aware that what works for me may not work for everyone.

As women and as feminists we need to stop and think about involving ourselves in behaviours simply because our grandmothers, or mothers actively participated and give serious thought to the significance that it holds in our lives.  I have no plans to put the unhusband out on the curb on garbage day but I can only make that statement because I know that the foundation of our relationship is respect.  No relationship, no matter if it receives the blessing of the state, or a religious figure, will survive if respect is lacking.

So in closing, no I never intend to marry.  I love the fact that I will leave this world with the name I was born with; so you will just have to dip that branding iron in cool water.  Finally, we could not be happier, our love need not answer to anyone and that is a position that should stand for all.


Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Great post Renee!

I am single, do not want to be in a relationship and do not want to get married. Great to read that you never want to get married. I have to say that I am happy with myself. Plus I have more freedom to move, travel and do things in life as I may.

Charles said...

I have a great deal of respect for your decision not to marry and I would never question someone else's right to live in such an arrangement. However there are reasons to marry other than to establish a traditional hierarchical patriarchal family.

My partner and I have been living together unmarried for more than six years. We've recently purchases a house together. We're committed to sharing our lives with one another. We don't think that we need to get married in order to add anything to our relationship or our commitment. But the fact remains that we are at a disadvantage in certain ways because we aren't married.

For example, about a year ago my partner was very ill and spent two weeks in the hospital. For most of that time she was not mentally competent, as her illness affected her brain, and also the level of pain she was in required morphine. It was very hard to get medical professionals to accept that I could have any hand in making decisions about her treatment, even though that's what she wanted. If we'd been married, it wouldn't have been an issue. Our not being married complicated an already-difficult situation. Because our society doesn't value the social relationship we've chosen as much as it values marriage, we are treated as lesser-than.

Another example -- thankfully, the company she works for recognizes domestic partnerships, and so I'm able to get health insurance from her employer. But we're taxed on the value of that health insurance; if we were married, we wouldn't be taxed for it. Not being married comes with a practical financial penalty. In many places in the U.S., it would mean me living without health insurance.

There are other, similar examples. But the point is that, at least where we live, we're denied certain rights because of our non-married status. We intend to get married in the fairly near future for practical, not ideological, reasons.

--Charles said...

I love this post.

Marriage was a touchy and hurtful subject for me. I had a horrible marriage to a man who did not respect me and treated me like property. I lost myself for the few years that I trudged through it b/c my family was convinced that I needed to be married in order to raise my daughter. I was so wrong to listen to them, no matter how pure their intentions.

When I met The Guy, we never intended on getting married. Me b/c I had such a horrible first experience, but together we didn't see the need. Until he came up for military orders. After a lot of mental conflict, and weighing pros and cons (b/c I am of the mind that if everyone can not choose to marry than I shouldn't), we succumbed. It's not bad, and it hasn't changed who we are, but we were a little disappointed that we were literally forced to make that decision.

Luckily, The Guy and I can function as equals. I wish that we lived in a world that valued people and their judgement enough to not force them into institutions that they don't want or need. Marriage is a form of privilege, b/c being in a hetero relationship we had that option to "solve" our problems. We wanted to stay together even when he went overseas, but that isn't an option unless you bind yourself.

I love that you are able to proudly live as you do. In a way I envy it. I wish we lived in a world that would let more of us make that choice.

Jewelry Rockstar said...

I have been happily married for 15 years. I say more power to you! Love is love, family is family. As long as you are not in the position where he has financial power over you and can screw if the two of you parted, I say why fix it if it's not broken.

Funny thing I swear I thought you were a Lesbian...

Renee said...

@Jewlelry Rockstar I firmly believe that no matter how much a woman is love she should always have an escape fund the minute she co habitats with anyone. It should be enough to get her to a safe place and pay first and last month rent on an apartment. I have seen to many women stranded for lack of an emergency fund. Even if you need to save it at a rate of 5 dollars a week it is so extremely important to have.

Vera H. said...

I understand where you are coming from about the institution of marriage, and I totally respect your choice not to marry--totally cool.

My parents had a horrible marriage,and as I child I promised myself that I'd never marry. Yet, I am happily married. I did change my name, not because I had to, but because I simply liked his last name and it was higher in the alphabet.

My husband respects me and I respect him, and in many ways, marriage has healed me. I don't feel like I'm a slave, property, or anything lesser.

I've seen happily married people, unhappily married people, happily unmarried couples, and unhappy unmarried couples.

Point is as along you are able to exercise your freedom of choice, it's all good.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this post. I had a psychology professor in college who greatly influenced my views on women's issues who was happily unmarried and always referred to her significant other as her partner. Imagine the shock that audibly reverberated through the classroom one day when she said "my partner... HE". Everyone assumed she was a lesbian!

I am currently in a happily committed relationship where we have no interest in getting married (and we often discuss how to refer to one another - I told my partner about unhusband and we both got a kick out of it).

Not only do I get more flak about this choice than he does, but people seem to assume that somehow he coerced me into agreeing to this idea as though marriage is only unappealing to men, not women.

People continually ask me if we're going to get married. I like to give them a really confused look and respond that we are committed to staying together as long as our relationship works for us.

Queers United said...

I respect your views, I know a lot of people who don't subscribe to the getting married idea. More power to you all!

Cheriot said...

Thank you for this post! I have been with my partner for 4 years now and neither of us is inclined to be married.

I mentioned the other day at work that I am not interested in being married and someone actually asked me if my partner was okay with that....

My father also asked me recently how I knew he was committed if we didn't get married.

Needless to say, reading your post and some of the comments describing similar situations help reaffirm my decision and make me feel a little less crazy!

Coolred38 said...

After being married 20 years to a man that viewed marriage as a license to own another individual...I have been happily divorced for almost 2 years now...and yet whenever I see certain members of my usual group...mostly the older members...the first thing they ask is if "I have met a man yet"...
am I ever getting married again"..."how can I possibly stand not being married"...and my all time favorite..."how can you catch a man looking like that?" Not to mention the occasional sly remark about how can I get by without sex...which means all these people are assuming Im not having any merely because Im not married now....hmmm.

But thats the middle east for you...if a woman isnt married then she "owned" by any man at the moment...and for sure she isnt having sex...or better not be...and to get her safely remarried is the most important thing to discuss with her...or behind her back....aaarrrrghhh!

Im happy contemplating the rest of my remaining days unhindered by the marriage yoke...why cant everyone else accept that on my behalf?

Kissimmee said...

YAY for not getting married. I have long been distrustful of marriage as a kind of binding contract between people who may or may not like each other after a few years. Watching my parents' marriage, I have known for a long time that I would never want anything like it.

That being said, there are so few people who are really proud of living unmarried as you do. So many people are pressured and shamed into a validated union, or at least proclaim that they are ashamed about "shacking-up" when the subject is brought up to them. I love this post and I'm so glad to have someone express a point of view that I've been leaning towards but been slightly afraid of. This may sound weird but your view on marriage is a vision of the future I really hadn't dared to dream of, (i.e. where marriage is a past tradition instead of the societal keystone). Yay for new dreams and new ways of imagining.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is important to me because of the religious aspect of it. Even if I got no recognition from the government, I would insist on a marriage ceremony with my partner, to commit before friends and family and my Gods.

Anonymous said...

I'm married, but didn't take his name. Just really can't believe how people respond to such things. Absurd.

space said...

It's kinda funny how marriage has all kinds of benefits for men and downsides for women, yet it's portrayed in this society as being something that principally benefits women, and women are thought strange for not wanting it.

My boyfriend's a little disappointed that I'd refuse to take his last name or even hyphenate if we ever married, but he can understand why.

Danyell said...

Thanks for this post.

My partner and I are getting a domestic partnership this month, simply so I can get on his health insurance plan at his job. It's not a romantic thing, it's just a form for the government to acknowledge us. Outside of that, we have no intentions to ever marry. But I have no problem with those who the make the choice to. And I strongly support the right for gay people to choose to get married. It all comes down to choice. I don't want someone else to say I must get married anymore than to say someone else can't.

But the two of us are very much in love and committed and been together almost 6 years. A piece of paper will not change our feelings for each other.

Likewise, my brother and his partner would probably only get married for technical purposes. I call her my "illegal sister", because we'll never be inlaws but she is like a sister to me.

feministblogproject said...

I'm married, but didn't take his name. Just really can't believe how people respond to such things. Absurd.

I know!! People have asked how my partner (we are married but I rarely use the word "husband") knows that I'm really committed to my marriage if I didn't take his name. Well, how can I know he's committed if he won't take my name? Apparently, it doesn't have to work both ways. Apparently, I am the only one who needs to prove my commitment.

I agonized a lot about whether I really wanted us to get married. But I wanted my partner to have access to my great health insurance, wanted to make sure the state recognized him as the person who would make medical decisions if I was incapacitated, etc. And actually, it ended up working for me in a political sense as well, just because soooo many people got riled up about the fact that I was *gasp* keeping my maiden name. It also annoys people that we're not going to have children. I've actually been asked why I would bother getting married if I wasn't going to have children. So those of us who don't want kids don't have the right to marry?

Anonymous said...

Minor grammar fix:
"Marriage is any institution to uphold patriarchy and heterosexism and this why it is [a] right routinely denied lesbians."

My comments:
Yay! ;-)
After one divorce and a truly awful (emotionally abusive) relationship, I am quite firm about not marrying again, and almost certainly never cohabiting with anyone else, either. Which brings up the entire, built in assumptions behind "couples" (especially heteronormative). It's *really* tough if you're a gal who doesn't want a husband and doesn't want any kind of live in bf AND doesn't want one night stands nor celibacy.

The points you make about this really being social means of *controlling* women absolutely crystal completely clear :-P

I'm sure I'll figure something out eventually, but in the meantime...OI!

(And of course some of the absolutely practical issues raised...these are completely and utterly familiar to the queer community which is in part why the whole issue of gay marriage got raised in the first place.)

Tom said...

Good post. Well stated.
The choice to marry or not is totally up to the couple involved and I couldn't ever insist that they had to get married. Personally, I've been married for 13 years and most of them have been good but I can understand why some people have had bad experiences.
A good marriage should make the partners equal and a woman should never feel or be treated as property or owned. I do disagree that the reason that society chooses to not validate the union is that a man isn't profiting from the union unless you are going to qualify it by narrowing that scope to heterosexual men and even then you might have problems explaining away the women that disagree with it. I'm sure by saying that they are taking part in social norms, but I don't think that's the case.
It's entirely possible that I can't see the whole picture, but mostly I think that it is a particular set of beliefs that lead them to feel this way, at least the ones that cite the Bible as the reason for their opposition for gay marriage and support for traditional marriage. They are entitled to that belief also, just as anyone is and would anyone let them live it down if they didn't defend their beliefs. Anyone that feels strongly would do the same.
Strictly my opinion, though.

Anonymous said...

"How do I know that he is committed to me, if I don't have a slave band wedding ring on my finger? Don't you want to be branded like a cow, share the same last name?"

You have every right not to get married if you wish. However, there is a very fine line between satire (which i assume you were going for), and insulting (which is what you achieved).


Jewelry Rockstar said...

Renee, two people married or unmarried living together produces a lot financially. A woman needs way more than a first and last month rent emergency fund to part if she has invested many many years into a relationship. I guess I was speaking more about maintaining a standard of living. I know someone who was happily unmarried, until one day Mr. Unmarried decided he was leaving in one month. They had made an agreement that she would stay home with the kids their whole time together, when he wanted to bounce she didn't have anything. If married, the law would have made him support her standard of living (for a while anyway) in addition to child support . Unmarried-- all you get is a skimpy child support check and a peace out sign.

Dori said...


There is historical significance to the terms that Renee used. That is the basis of those traditions. You may not have done these things with that in mind, and they may not mean that for you, but that does not remove their significance. Being insulted that she referenced something that is still a reality in many parts of the world today seems to indicate some mixed up priorities to me.


I see exactly where you are coming from, and I definitely thought I would do the same as you when the subject came up. Then I fell in love, and the situation ended up being one I could not predict. My spouse is a transwoman, and we decided to get married for a plethora of reasons, including the opportunity to thumb our noses at our state that is dragging its feet on same-sex marriage. Even once all her paperwork is changed to reflect her legal status as female, our marriage will remain legal. So our decision was quite political in its intention.

Anonymous said...

I've never received any pressure from my parents to get married to my boyfriend of five years, possibly because they're divorced. In fact my Dad always says "don't get married, don't have kids." The only time I can remember anyone ever hinting that I should tie the knot was when my cousin proposed to his girlfriend at a family party, and my aunt nudged me and winked and said "maybe it's catching." Also a time when I mentioned to my grandmother the vague possibility of us having children one day, and she looked at me very sternly and said "but you're going to get married first, right?" All I could think of was to stammer "yes" not very convincingly.
I'm sure that as time goes on, I'll be receiving a greater number of these hints/suggestions.
Another cousin of mine married his girlfriend of seven years very suddenly. He didn't tell anyone; invited his parents over and told them to dress up fancy for a dinner, then surprised them by announcing they were all in fact going to get a marriage license (this alienated his brother, who had the somewhat more typical giant expensive wedding, and who was not invited, due to him living far away). I found out later that his wife had endured horrible abuse as a child, caused by her family, and as a result, she wanted to legally take his name, to try to leave the past behind, and embrace his family who had embraced her. He said that was the only thing that convinced him that marriage could be, if not necessary in general, perhaps a good thing in his specific case. I thought it was touching that he went through with it, and was able to pull it off in a way that made both of them happy - her because she got his name, and him because he got to avoid the stress and fuss and $$ of an elaborate wedding. He and his brother made up eventually.